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Standards Commissioner Denies PL Whip’s Conflict Of Interest Claims Over Joseph Muscat Wine Gift Investigation

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Malta’s Standards Commissioner has denied having had a conflict of interest due to his familial ties when he investigated Joseph Muscat for accepting expensive wine bottles from businessman and murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

Labour Whip Glenn Bedingfield today warned Hyzler had a conflict of interest because he is the stepfather of Gianluca Caruana Curran, one of Fenech’s defence lawyers.

“George Hyzler is the stepfather of one of Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers. Fenech has asked for a presidential pardon. Joseph Muscat was threatened to pressure him into recommend a pardon for Fenech. Joseph Muscat’s government refused to give him a pardon. George Hyzler investigated Joseph Muscat and condemned him for breaching ethics,” Bedingfield wrote.

“The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life enjoys the same status as a judge and a serious judge would have recused himself from a case like this so as to leave no shadow of a conflict of interest with respect to the principles of natural justice, which state that no judge should have an interest in cases they rule on.”

“High standards in public life apply for everyone. Even if Hyzler wasn’t influenced by his familial ties with Yorgen Fenech’s defence lawyer, the fact that this perception exists doesn’t shower his position with honours. Just as he reached his own conclusion, so too will everyone else.”

However, Hyzler told Lovin Malta that there was no conflict of interest whatsoever as his investigation didn’t get into the merits of Fenech’s murder case.

“My investigation was solely focused on the closeness between politicians and businessmen and recommended that politicians keep a social distance from them,” he said.

Hyzler added that Bedingfield hadn’t accused him of having a conflict of interest before he concluded his inquiry.

A screen grab of a video taken at Joseph Muscat's Girgenti birthday party in 2019

A screen grab of a video taken at Joseph Muscat's Girgenti birthday party in 2019

What was Hyzler’s inquiry about?

In February 2019, Fenech attended Muscat’s exclusive birthday party at Girgenti, the Prime Minister’s official residence, and gifted him three Petrus wine bottles, estimated to cost at least €5,000 a bottle.

Three months earlier, Fenech had been named as the owner of 17 Black, a Dubai company which was listed as the target client of Keith Schembri’s and Konrad Mizzi’s infamous Panama companies.

In his defence, Muscat said that he was advised by the Security Services to act normally when dealing with Fenech so as not to arouse his suspicion that he was under police investigation for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

He said he didn’t keep the wine bottles himself but left them in the property of the state and that the gifts in no way impacted his judgement when making decisions in relation to the Caruana Galizia murder case.

However, Hyzler argued that it shouldn’t have been normal in the first place for a Prime Minister to accept such expensive gifts from a businessman who has benefited from a number of controversial government deals, such as the Electrogas power station and high-rise buildings in Mrieħel.

“I won’t delve into these cases but I’m mentioning them to show how easy it is for suspicions to be raised that big businessmen are exercising undue influence and how important it is for Prime Ministers and ministers to keep an adequate social distance from these people,” he said.

READ NEXT: Adrian Delia Calls Out 'Mock-Up' Chats With Yorgen Fenech: Why Is This The Only 'Exchange' Published?

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